John McPake, a former teacher, has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Soon after his marriage fell apart he started hearing voices and eventually moved into an Edinburgh hostel for men with enduring mental health problems. An earlier obsession with the works of Breughel develops into a full blown delusion, and he assumes the personna of Johannes, a 16th century Dutch weaver who travels with his friends, Balthazar and Cornelius, in pursuit of his son who has been abducted by the Spanish mercenaries; an echo of John's real life quest to be reunited with his brother. People with a diagnosis of psychosis often hear multiple voices. To the hearer the voices are as real as if they were listening to someone standing next to them. The voices, often unpleasant, can have completely different characters. John's voices jostle and bitch with each other for the right to tell his story.

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Unable to sleep John raised his window and breathed in the chill early morning air. He could just make out Jack lying in the grave with his arms crossed.

Overall the garden was not proving a great success. Aftera heavy night’s drinking jack Sprat (he was afterall just skin and bones) had taken a spade and started to dig by moonlight. He had thrown earth over his shoulder as if rescuing a smothered relative from a landslip. Despite his slight frame the hole grew deeper. He knew a thing or vteo about graves having been employed as an NVQ assessor to a large firm of funeral

directors in a previous life. ‘2.2: Sides of grave are shoredwhere depth of grave exceeds 1.5metres or as determined by enterprise policy,’ he recited from memory.

Increasingly bored with tending to the needs of the dead, Jack had joined the army and found himself in Bosnia where his previous training proved invaluable. After three months he stormed inot a formal regimental meal and harangued the Commander on account of there being no nationally defined professional competen cies for mass graves in this part of the world. It was a disgrace and clearly the Commander should have a word with the Serbs. He subsequently left the army and set up home wuith his new companions, psychosis, trauma, alcohol and several other mne with whom he had nothing in common apart from a diagnosis.


"A dark, comical story of seeming no-hopers which moves seamlessly between modern day Edinburgh and 16th Century Holland and opens up the world of those who struggle through life labelled as mentally ill to comic and touching effect."

Jo Brand

"A truly remarkable book."

Undiscovered Scotland

"A gripping and original read that also manages to address the extreme impact that personality disorders can have."

The Scottish Field

"The central thread of the story always holds firm. We never lose sight of his humanity, or his need for dignity and self-determination."

The Herald

In 2017 Tam Dean Burn adapted John McPake and the Sea Beggers for the stage. See Events for more details.

Title: John McPake and the Sea Beggars
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Published by: Sandstone Press
Release Date: 19/06/2014
Pages: 352
ISBN13: 9781908737694